Walking by the Joan Rainey Day mural in Baywood brought back memories of Sandal Makara, known as the Baykeeper. Much like the dunites who lived in the Oceano Dunes 1930s Sandal lived outside the expectations of society. His home was an angular, self made boat. He scrounged to make a living, making sandals, candle holders, dumpster diving. An example of the makeshift living arrangements was that for a time he used a tombstone for an anchor.
A colorful character, he was the subject of several stories over the years. In the mid-1990s the city of Morro Bay and state Fish and Game authorities were trying clear out illegal boat moorings. The Federal Communications Commission did not like his habit of swearing over marine radio frequencies.
Quoting a September 19, 1994 column by then Telegram-Tribune editor and Los Osos resident Jeff Fairbanks:
Why did Sandal become the target of the powers at City Hall? “I was the one they wanted to put on the cross. Did I raise hell with boaters? No. I raised hell with boaters who harassed the wildlife.”
So he returned to the tidelands where his boat, Monastery, was launched 26 years ago this June 4.
Since that time he’s lived on the water and raised a son there. He’s been written up in all the local papers as well as many beyond.
He’s known as the Baykeeeper for keeping his eye on unattended boats, alerting the Harbor Patrol in rescues and being first on the scene in many others. He’s got a thick, brown scrapbook filled with news accounts of his accomplishments dating back to 1970.
“I have more reason and purpose out here than anyone else.” He says his worst crime is that his boat is old and ugly. “Good God, it’s ugly, but so am I. But look inside.”
Some people whose bayfront views now include the Monastery have grumbled about his presence. He grumbles back about “newcomers with eyesore homes.”
Friends helped him move his boat to the mud flats near Baywood Point.
An August 28, 1972 article in the Los Angeles Times was headlined Man and Son Shun Progress, Live in Harmony With Nature.
In 1970 Sandal rescued a man from the breakwater when their 41 foot cabin cruiser lost power before dawn and crashed into the south breakwater. Two other men drowned. A letter to the editor called Sandal a hero.
This is the earliest story I could find from the then Telegram-Tribune on November 11, 1968.
5,989 years old?
Sandal and Paka find ‘the answer’
The expensive automobile slowly cruised past the huge eucalyptus trees bordering the southern end of Morro Bay harbor.
Suddenly it came to a halt at a point where the trees hover over the borders of the dark green golf course.
The middle-aged couple inside the car stared in wonderment at the sight below them.
Along the weed – strewn beach strolled a young blond – bearded man and near his side a 5-year-old-boy. Both were barefooted. Both seemed unconcerned that they were the focal point of the people on the roadside above.
Tourists in Morro Bay who get a glimpse at the man and the boy always seem to stare. But to those who know “Sandal” and his son Paka seeing them playing along remote beaches is a commonplace event.
For them “Shangri-la” is a 26-foot long handmade houseboat — created mostly out of scrap lumber from Baywood Park — the sea the sand and the freedom of being close to nature.
Prince Paka Digones wearing his coat-of-arms on his handmade leather shirt-coat pauses over a seagull he finds dead on the beach. His father comes close.
“One of the things that we study,” says “Sandal.”, “is finding a better way of helping to put an end to illegal hunting and fishing here.”
The two roll the dead bird into the brush.
“This is our bay, isn’t it Sandal?” says young Paka. “We keep it clean, don’t we?”
“We try,” replies his father.
Some 15 feet off shore, floating in about eight inches of water is the houseboat. Inside are sleeping accommodations for five-six persons and room for up to 15.
In addition there are kitchen facilities and a storeroom and Sandal’s workshop. He is an artist.
“I’m working mostly on metalworks now,” he says. His wares are on display at the Candle Shop and other places in Morro Bay. This is how he earns his living.
Sandal says he respects others for having their way of life. “But here — close to nature — is the greatest. It is our way,” he adds.
Across the bay is the wide sand dunes area, “We hike to a slide down ‘Sand Mountain’ over there,” he says as he points, “and Paka has a little red boat where he can slide right into the bay at the bottom of the hill.”
Paka comes with a large bamboo pole he has found on the shore. Cleans it to take aboard the houseboat.
Sandal says he is not going to let his son attend public schools when he becomes 6.
“They are wrong,” he says, “and there are ways of working around it.”
“I’ve got a lot of educational material onboard along with my poetry books. I’ve been reading to decide what course of action I’ll take when it comes time to make the decision for his schooling.
Two years ago, when the two first came to Morro Bay, there was a dispute about Sandal rearing the boy. It was settled in court in his favor.
“I think we have living proof that our way is best,” he says as the boy comes close to embrace his father and to show him a jelly fish in the seaweeds.
Often the two stay out in the bay for up to a week at a time before coming ashore for supplies. Or to sell wares. Or to do odd jobs for the citizenry.
Sometimes they come ashore with extra fish. These they give to the anti-poverty Grassroots organization as a contribution to needy families.
“If people are opposed to or way of life,” he says, “at least they can’t say anything derogatory against it.
“And please,” he added, “don’t refer to me as a hippie — I don’t smoke pot, I don’t dump waste in the bay. However I do like a bold cup of coffee at times when I’m a little nervous.
Sandal doesn’t like to see people smoke —but he says he can tolerate liquor with temperance.
There is no doubt about he depth of his eccentricities. Especially when he says that he is 5,989 years old.
“This is the beginning of man — the start of a gauntlet of beings — which has brought us to what we are now,” he explains his concept of age.
“Age, Financial status and other ‘classifications’ are not as important as accepting individuals as they are now,” he says. He adds that some classifications by society are in his opinion, “right.”
He points to his name as an example. “Of course, I have a legal name but long ago when I owned a sandal making shop down south the children started calling me ‘Sandal’.
“And if the children call you this — it is proper.”
Sandal has gained many friends in Morro Bay. Some helped him build his houseboat. Some visit him aboard the craft.
“But please,” he said, “don’t tell people that we live on seaweeds and pine needles as was inferred in another story about us, because I said a person could find substance in such a diet.
“Because,” he added, “after the last story, people wrote to me from all over the country wanting my recipe for pine needles.”
He laughs as he surveys his version of “Walden’s Pond.”
Paka jumps into his arms.
In the bay the tide moves out swiftly. Above the car slips back into gear and slowly pulls away.
Sandal died alone aboard the Monastery in 2004.